There is no shortage of choices for a cruise to the Caribbean — the most popular place in the world for cruising. More than 200 cruise ships spend at least part of every year in the region. Cruise-selling websites list thousands of individual Caribbean sailings.
This can be great news for would-be Caribbean cruisers, but it also can be overwhelming. With so many options, where do you even begin? Which one of these ships and sailings is the best?
I get the latter question a lot — and I always answer the same noncommittal way: It depends. The best ship and sailing in the Caribbean for whom? The best for me? The best for you? The best for your kids?
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When picking the best cruise in the Caribbean, as with choosing the best cruise anywhere, a lot comes down to tastes and preferences. Some people love the big-resort feel of the biggest-of-big ships. Others are horrified by the very idea of them. Some people demand (and are willing to pay for) the highest levels of luxury. Others are on tight budgets. The best cruise for a family with kids isn’t necessarily the same as the best cruise for a couple looking for romance.
What kind of cruiser are you? It’s important to think that through before narrowing down your choices.
The bottom line is that the best Caribbean cruise for you depends a lot on your travel style. Below, we’ll help you narrow down the choices by looking at Caribbean cruises by broad category type. The good news is that in the Caribbean, at least, there really is something for everyone.
Best Caribbean cruise for megaresort fans: Royal Caribbean
If your idea of a great vacation is a week at a big, bustling resort filled with every sort of amusement known to humans, you’ll probably want to start your Caribbean cruise search with a look at the biggest vessels from lines like Royal Caribbean.
If “more is better” is your mantra, skip the search and look up Icon of the Seas. At 250,800 gross tons, the new, 20-deck-high vessel is the biggest cruise ship in the world. No ship in the Caribbean is quite like it.
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Some of Icon of the Seas’ wow factors include an incomparably massive water park with six waterslides, a cantilevered infinity pool, a huge glass dome encompassing an indoor AquaTheater for acrobatic and diving shows, and innovative new cabin and suite layouts for families.
Royal Caribbean offers seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings departing from Miami aboard Icon of the Seas through April 2026.
Eastern Caribbean itineraries vary but include stops at St. Maarten; St. Thomas; Nassau, Bahamas; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the line’s private island Perfect Day at CocoCay, in the Bahamas. At the time of publication, prices for the seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise started from $1,731 per person.
Western Caribbean ports of call include Puerto Costa Maya and Cozumel; Roatan, Honduras; Nassau; and Perfect Day at CocoCay. Prices start from $1,651 per person.
With at least two sea days per sailing, passengers will have ample opportunity to explore all the attractions the ship has to offer.
Related: Why you shouldn’t ‘freak out’ about Royal Caribbean’s giant new Icon of the Seas
Best Caribbean cruise for families: Disney Cruise Line
In the family cruise arena, it’s hard to top Disney Cruise Line. As you might expect, the line caters heavily to families in every aspect of the cruise experience — from onboard attractions to family-friendly cabin configurations.
Disney’s attention to detail transfers to its voyages on the sea. Kids receive the royal treatment with high-quality kids clubs and onboard attractions like the 765-foot-long AquaDuck water coaster. Plus, they have plenty of opportunities for photo ops with their favorite Disney characters.
Parents will find opportunities to unwind at adults-only sun decks and pool areas that are closed to kids; there are also bars and clubs that are off-limits to anyone younger than 18.
Additionally, many cabins on Disney’s ships feature extra pull-down bunks and pull-out sofas that will allow four or even five people to stay in a single cabin. Most cabins have two bathrooms — one with a sink and a toilet, and one with a sink and a shower or tub. This is rare in the cruise world, and it’s designed to make it easier for families sharing a room to get ready.
For family fun on the high seas, try a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise aboard Disney Fantasy. Departing from Port Canaveral, the ship stops in Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Falmouth, Jamaica; and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.
Also, depending on the time of year you sail, you can enjoy special onboard activities and events for Halloween or Christmas. Some itineraries also include a “Pixar Day at Sea,” which features a day of playing, dancing, swimming and dining with your favorite Pixar characters. Prices start from $2,959, double occupancy, and include taxes, fees and port expenses.
Related: The ultimate guide to Disney ships and itineraries
Best budget Caribbean cruise: Carnival Cruise Line
The undisputed leader in the Caribbean cruise market when it comes to affordability is Carnival Cruise Line. Not only does Carnival offer lower fares than you’ll find at most rival lines, but it also purposely deploys its Caribbean-focused vessels to a wider variety of U.S. “home ports.” The idea is that a large percentage of the U.S. population can reach a Caribbean-bound Carnival ship by car, saving the cost of flights.
Related: The ultimate guide to Carnival ships and itineraries
Carnival ships are packed with fun-focused attractions, including multiple pool areas, water parks with waterslides, basketball courts, miniature golf courses and even roller coasters on select ships.
The cruise line is known for its multitude of included-in-the-fare dining spots. Every vessel has two main dining rooms and a casual buffet eatery. Most ships feature two of the best quick-serve poolside dining venues you’ll find on mass-market ships at sea: BlueIguana Cantina for burritos and tacos as well as Guy’s Burger Joint.
Carnival ships sail to the Caribbean from all the major Florida cruise hubs but also from ports as far-flung as New York City; Baltimore; Charleston, South Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans; and Galveston, Texas.
The line’s 10-day Eastern Caribbean sailing from New York City on Carnival Venezia is a solid choice for budget-minded travelers seeking an affordable Caribbean escape. Passengers can swim with graceful stingrays in Gibbs Cay or tour historic Cockburn Town during a port call in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos. In Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, you can take an exciting ATV tour through the lush backcountry.
Year-round sailings in 2024 offer ample itineraries to fit your schedule and budget. Rates start from $529 per person, based on double occupancy. Price does not include taxes, fees and port expenses.
Related: 6 ways to get a deal on a cruise
Best Caribbean cruise for solo travelers: Norwegian Cruise Line
When it comes to catering to solo cruisers, the king of the hill in the Caribbean is Norwegian Cruise Line — at least among the big-ship lines. The Miami-based cruise operator in 2010 began adding entire zones for solo travelers to the center of every new ship it deployed to the region.
You’ll now find these zones on Caribbean-focused vessels like Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Prima. Each of these solo cruiser zones, which are unrepeated in the industry for now, includes dozens of cabins for solo travelers, all clustered around each other. There is also a private lounge with a bar and television where solos can mingle at daily hosted happy hour gatherings.
Known as Studio cabins, the tiny solo rooms in these complexes measure just 100 square feet. But they’re superbly designed to maximize storage space. I sailed solo in one of the cabins on Norwegian Epic, and I was smitten. I particularly loved its futuristic “Jetsons”-like design and the multicolored mood lighting.
Related: These cabins are great for travelers cruising alone
One big caveat with Norwegian’s solo cabins: They’re all “inside” rooms without an ocean view. That said, most have a window that looks out onto a corridor. Another downside is that these solo cabins are so popular they often sell out far in advance at prices not much better than booking a cabin for two.
Single cruisers seeking some extensive rest and relaxation should consider the “10-day Bermuda & Caribbean: Puerto Rico & Dominican Republic” cruise out of New York City on Norwegian Getaway.
The 3,963-passenger ship is chock-full of restaurants, bars, nightlife spots and fantastic entertainment, including Broadway shows. With Norwegian’s laid-back dining plan, solo travelers aren’t locked into set dining times and table mates, so they can invite newly made friends to dinner at a time convenient to everyone.
Bermuda is the first stop on this six-port sailing. From there, the ship visits St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San Juan, and Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
Rates for a Studio cabin start from $1,499, excluding taxes, fees and port expenses.
Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises
Best Caribbean cruise for luxury lovers: Windstar Cruises
For those who wouldn’t be caught dead on a vessel that doesn’t have butler service and free-flowing caviar, the Caribbean can be a tough spot. Many of the world’s most luxurious cruise ships spend a lot of time in Europe and Asia or gallivanting around the globe on exotic world cruises. For some luxury lines, the Caribbean is almost an afterthought.
Also, you’ll usually only see luxury sailings in the Caribbean during the winter months — from December through March. For luxury cruises in the Caribbean, the period between April and October is pretty much a dead zone.
However, if an upscale cruise experience is what you seek, Windstar Cruises can deliver. The line’s seven-night Classic Caribbean itinerary aboard Wind Surf should be on your radar.
Windstar Cruises specializes in small ships carrying between 148 and 342 passengers each. The line calls them yachts, but the ships are structured more like tiny cruise ships with indoor lounges and communal dining rooms.
The 342-passenger Wind Surf features six decks, five masts and four types of cabins (all with windows only, no balconies). Accommodations range from 188-square-foot regular cabins to 376-square-foot suites.
Windstar Cruises ships also include a water sports platform. On select days when the ship is anchored (not docked at a pier) — and the weather, government regulations and planets align — passengers can enjoy varied water sports like stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming right off the back of the ship. You can also lounge on a float or admire the glittering, yacht-dotted harbor from a large foam flotation island.
Wind Surf is also home to multiple dining venues, a pool and hot tubs, a boutique, a spa and a fitness center.
The seven-night Classic Caribbean itinerary begins and ends in St. Maarten. It features sun-kissed beaches, secret coves and gin-clear waters in idyllic ports of call like St. Barts, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Dominica and St. Lucia.
All-inclusive rates start from $2,622 and include Wi-Fi, gratuities and unlimited beer, wine and cocktails. Cruise-only rates start from $1,999 (and exclude taxes, fees and port expenses).
Related: The 2 classes of Windstar ships, explained
Best adults-only Caribbean cruise: Virgin Voyages
The brainchild of unconventional business mogul Richard Branson, Virgin Voyages appeals to vacationers averse to the traditional cruising experience who crave a hip, party atmosphere. Ships are blissfully void of children — cruisers must be over 18 — making it a prime choice for an adults-only cruise.
Virgin boasts unique onboard offerings like the first tattoo parlor at sea, lots of included dining options, free exercise classes and an app that lets you simply shake your phone to order Champagne (which is delivered to you just about anywhere onboard). Also, fares include all meals, soda, basic Wi-Fi and crew gratuities.
Virgin’s first vessel, Scarlet Lady, launched in late 2021. The line added Valiant Lady and Resilient Lady in 2022 and 2023, respectively. The debut of the line’s fourth ship in the fleet, Brilliant Lady, has been delayed but could take place in 2024.
Ships are filled with stylish, adult-oriented bars promising a hopping scene late into the night as well as hipster venues like a colorful karaoke lounge. Onboard entertainment is inventive and often edgier than what you might see on traditional-style cruises.
Cabins sport a minimalist look with futuristic touches, and suites exude a rock ‘n’ roll vibe with in-room turntables and peekaboo showers.
The line’s Dominican Haze five-night itinerary to Bimini, Bahamas and Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, sails out of Miami on the 2,700-passenger Scarlet Lady. With two sea days, the sailing offers a good mix of onboard shenanigans and port-of-call exploration. Party by the pool or swim with stingrays during your day at Virgin Voyages’ Bimini Beach Club. Chill out on a powder-white beach or go waterfall hunting in the jungle in the Dominican Republic.
Rates start from $913.75 per person, based on double occupancy (excluding taxes and fees).
Related: Virgin Voyages cruise cabins and suites: Everything you want to know
Best Caribbean cruise for couples: Holland America
Holland America offers spacious midsize vessels that carry no more than 2,700 passengers, providing a relaxed and intimate cruising experience ideal for pairs seeking quality time at sea.
Caribbean-craving couples will be sated with the nine-day Southern Caribbean Seafarer cruise sailing out of Fort Lauderdale aboard Rotterdam. The 2,650-passenger ship, which debuted in 2021, is Holland America’s newest.
In addition to a main restaurant and casual buffet, Rotterdam features five separate specialty dining venues — everything from a pan-Asian eatery to an upscale steakhouse. Extensive onboard entertainment includes clubs featuring blues and classic rock as well as various musical performances in the main theater. Cultural programming, pickleball lessons, and food and wine tastings are among the complimentary activities available.
Of course, relaxing by the pool and indulging in a restorative spa treatment are also options.
On the Southern Caribbean Seafarer cruise, couples can visit Curacao, Aruba and Half Moon Cay, the line’s private island in the Bahamas. An overnight stay in Curacao allows cruisers to dive deeper into the island’s history, culture and natural lures. Aruba offers diversions below and above the water, from submarine tours and snorkeling to hikes and four-wheeling adventures. The stop at pristine Half Moon Cay provides an easy and relaxing beach day.
Rates start from $799 per person, based on double occupancy (excluding taxes and fees).
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